Pioneer Award

Animal Free Research UK Pioneer Awards

Established animal-free researchers are already leading the way. They are true pioneers and deserve to be recognised.

For the second year running, The Pioneer Award recognises and celebrates the achievements of trailblazing scientists who conduct medical research without using animals.

The specially commissioned Pioneer Medal will be awarded to the winner for their outstanding contribution in helping to make animal-free the gold standard in UK laboratories. In 2022 this was awarded to Dr Donald E Ingber – the founding director of Harvard University’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering.

Meet our 2023 winners

Dr Merel Ritskes-Hoitinga – Pioneer Award Winner

Leading Professor of Evidence-Based Transition to Animal-free Innovations at Utrecht University, Dr Merel Ritskes-Hoitinga, has been awarded this year’s Animal Free Research UK Pioneer Award 2023.

Merel Ritskes-Hoitinga was appointed Professor of Evidence-Based Transition Animal-Free Innovations at the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine at Utrecht University in 2022. In her research and teaching, she mainly focuses on the collaboration between academia, industry, NGOs and regulatory bodies to jointly achieve guidelines and faster acceptance of alternatives to animal testing.

Dr Merel Ritskes-Hoitinga is an expert in her field, leading the way in introducing groundbreaking new technologies that are revolutionising the way we conduct medical research. We are thrilled to present her with the 2023 Pioneer Award.

I dedicate my teaching and research efforts to accelerating the adaptation of animal-free methodologies. This award serves as a motivating force that propels me towards achieving this crucial goal.

Dr Adrian Biddle – Outstanding Scientist Award

Dr Adrian Biddle is a group leader and senior lecturer within the Centre for Cell Biology and Cutaneous Research at the Blizard Institute, Queen Mary University of London. His research interest is in cancer stem cells in oral cancer, and their importance for tumour spread and therapeutic resistance.

Adrian obtained a PhD from Cambridge University in 2008, on the topic of nuclear reprogramming. He then joined the Blizard Institute as a postdoctoral fellow working on cancer stem cells in oral cancer. Adrian was awarded an NC3Rs David Sainsbury fellowship in 2012, and funding to start his own group at the Animal Free Research UK Animal Replacement Centre of Excellence (ARC) in 2016.

I am deeply honoured to win this award. I have witnessed, over the past decade, the fantastic work that Animal Free Research UK does to raise the profile of animal-free research approaches in UK bioscience. It has been really rewarding to have been able to play a role in this. The future of research is certainly bright, and I look forward to a future of technological innovation that enables further replacement of animals in research.

Sophie O’Kane – Early Career Scientist Award

Sophie O’Kane, at the Karolinska Institutet, is a dedicated neuroscientist with a passion for advancing scientific research through animal-free methods. In her PhD project, Sophie is investigating the neurocognitive mechanisms of full-body ownership using behavioural and neuroimaging approaches.

When Sophie is not immersed in her neuroscientific research, she devotes her spare time to advocate for the promotion and adoption of animal-free scientific methodologies from within one of Europe’s largest and most prestigious medical research institutions, driven by the belief that cutting-edge science not only could, but should, utilise this approach in order to flourish in its goal of improving human health, and respect the well being of all living beings in the process.

Words cannot express how it feels to have been awarded the Early Career Scientist Award! To be recognised for something I have found to be as challenging as it has been fulfilling is especially rewarding, and inspires me to call upon all scientists, young and old, to reflect with an open-heart, to embrace novel alternative methods and to join us in the much needed race to replace non-human animals in human medical research.